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Mediastinal Tumors

The mediastinum contains the non-lung portion of the chest, the areas around it, including upper and lower parts, connecting the chest wall at front, the lungs at the sides, and the spine in the back. The mediastinum contains the heart, aorta, esophagus, thymus and trachea.

Because of its location, the mediastinum is often the site of various types of tumors, including:

  • Thymoma—the most common primary anterior (frontal) mediastinal tumor seen in adults

  • Lymphoma—the second most common primary anterior mediastinal tumor in adults

Even if tumors are benign, the critical location within the mediastinum can mean they are life-threatening, as they impact other vital organs. Tumors in the posterior region can compress the spinal cord, for example.

Who is at Risk for Mediastinal Tumors

While they are generally rare, mediastinal tumors are most often diagnosed in patients aged 30 to 50 years, although they can develop at any age, and can develop in any tissue contained in the mediastinum.

Signs & Symptoms

Many people who have mediastinal tumors experience no symptoms, and the tumors are discovered only by accident. When symptoms do occur, they tend to be the result of compression on other organs, such as the spine, heart, or heart lining (pericardium). Symptoms of this compression may include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Coughing up blood

Diagnosis & Testing

Some of the most commonly-used tests to diagnose mediastinal tumors include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest
  • CT-guided needle biopsy
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the chest
  • Mediastinoscopy with biopsy

Treatment of Mediastinal Tumors

Treatment depends on the kind of mediastinal tumor and its location. Neurogenic (nervous system-related) tumors in the posterior (back) mediastinum are treated through surgery. Lymphomas are typically treated with chemotherapy, followed by radiation therapy. Thymomas usually require surgery, followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Why Choose Northwestern Memorial?

The Thoracic Surgery Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital offers the latest surgical procedures for benign and malignant tumors of the mediastinum. Your doctor will discuss the most appropriate treatment for mediastinal tumors.

Last UpdateJanuary 24, 2012


For more information or to make an appointment please call 312-695-3800.